I really have been trying to let myself get over this nightmare, but since you guys promise you're listening here, I'll try to just say it all, get it all out.
I have invested more of myself into this series than almost any other video game franchise in my life. I loved this game. I believed in it. For five years, it delivered. I must have played ME1 and ME2 a dozen times each.
I remember the end of Mass Effect 2. Never before, in any video game I had ever played, did I feel like my actions really mattered. Knowing that the decisions I made and the hard work I put into ME2 had a very real, clear, obvious impact on who lived and who died was one of the most astounding feelings in the world to me. I remember when that laser hit the Normandy and Joker made a comment about how he was happy we upgraded the shields. That was amazing. Cause and effect. Work and reward.
The first time I went through, I lost Mordin, and it was gut-wrenching: watching him die because I made a bad decision was damning, heartbreaking. But it wasn't hopeless, because I knew I could go back, do better, and save him. I knew that I was in control, that my actions mattered. So that's exactly what I did. I reviewed my decisions, found my mistakes, and did everything right. I put together a plan, I worked hard to follow that plan, and I got the reward I had worked so hard for. And then, it was all for nothing.
When I started playing Mass Effect 3, I was blown away. It was perfect. Everything was perfect. It was incredible to see all of my decisions playing out in front of me, building up to new and outrageous outcomes. I was so sure that this was it, this was going to be the masterpiece that crowned an already near-perfect trilogy. With every war asset I gathered, and with every multiplayer game I won, I knew that my work would pay off, that I would be truly satisfied with the outcome of my hard work and smart decisions. Every time I acquired a new WA bonus, I couldn't wait to see how it would play out in the final battle. And then, it was all for nothing.
I wasn't expecting a perfect, happy ending with rainbows and butterflies. In fact, I think I may have been insulted if everyone made it through just fine. The Reapers are an enormous threat (although obviously not as invincible as they would like us to believe), and we should be right to anticipate heavy losses. But I never lost hope. I built alliances, I made the impossible happen to rally the galaxy together. I cured the genophage. I saved the Turians. I united the geth and the quarians. And then, it was all for nothing.
When Mordin died, it was heartwrenching, but I knew it was the right thing. His sacrifice was... perfect. It made sense. It was congruent with the dramatic themes that had been present since I very first met Wrex in ME1. It was not a cheap trick, a deus ex machina, an easy out. It was beautiful, meaningful, significant, relevant, and satisfying. It was an amazing way for an amazing character to sacrifice themself for an amazing thing. And then it was all for nothing.
When Thane died, it was tearjerking. I knew from the moment he explained his illness that one day, I'd have to deal with his death. I knew he was never going to survive the trilogy, and I knew it wouldn't be fun to watch him go. But when his son started reading the prayer, I lost it. His death was beautiful. It was significant. It was relevant. It was satisfying. It was meaningful. He died to protect Shepard, to protect the entire Citadel. He took a life he thought was unredeemable and used it to make the world a brighter place. And then it was all for nothing.
When Wrex and Eve thanked me for saving their species, I felt that I had truly accomplished something great. When Tali set foot on her homeworld, I felt that I had truly accomplished something great. When Javik gave his inspiring speech, I felt that I had inspired something truly great. When I activated the Citadel's arms, sat down to reminisce with Anderson one final time, I felt that I had truly accomplished something amazing. I felt that my sacrifice was meaningful. Significant. Relevant. And while still a completely unexplained deus ex machina, at least it was a little bit satisfying.
And then, just like everything else in this trilogy, it was all for nothing.
If we pretend like the indoctrination theory is false, and we're really supposed to take the ending at face value, this entire game is a lost cause. The krogans will never repopulate. The quarians will never rebuild their home world. The geth will never know what it means to be alive and independent. The salarians will never see how people can change for the better.
Instead, the quarians and turians will endure a quick, torturous extinction as they slowly starve to death, trapped in a system with no support for them. Everyone else will squabble over the scraps of Earth that haven't been completely obliterated, until the krogans drive them all to extinction and then die off without any women present. And this is all assuming that the relays didn't cause supernova-scaled extinction events simply by being destroyed, like we saw in Arrival.
And perhaps the worst part is that we don't even know. We don't know what happened to our squadmates. We didn't get any sort of catharsis, conclusion. We got five years of literary foreplay followed by a kick to the groin and a note telling us that in a couple months, we can pay Bioware $15 for them to do it to us all over again.
It's not just the abysmally depressing/sacrificial nature of the ending, either. As I've already made perfectly clear, I came into this game expecting sacrifice. When Mordin did it, it was beautiful. When Thane did it, it was beautiful. Even Verner. Stupid, misguided, idiotic Verner. Even his ridiculous sacrifice had meaning, relevance, coherence, and offered satisfaction.
No, it's not the sacrifice I have a problem with. It's the utter lack of coherence and respect for the five years of literary gold that have already been established in this franchise. We spent three games preparing to fight these reapers. I spent hours upon hours doing every side quest, picking up every war asset, maxing out my galactic readiness so that when the time came, the army I had built could make a stand, and show these Reapers that we won't go down without a fight.
In ME1, we did the impossible when we killed Sovereign. In ME2, we began to see that the Reapers aren't as immortal as they claim to be: that even they have basic needs, exploitable weaknesses. In ME3, we saw the Reapers die. We saw one get taken down by an overgrown worm. We saw one die with a few coordinated orbital bombardments. We saw several ripped apart by standard space combat. In ME1, it took three alliance fleets to kill the "invincible" Sovereign. By the end of ME3, I had assembled a galactic armada fifty times more powerful than that, and a thousand times more prepared. I never expected the fight to be easy, but I proved that we wouldn't go down without a fight, that there is always hope in unity. That's the theme we've been given for the past five years: there is hope and strength through unity. That if we work together, we can achieve the impossible.
And then we're supposed to believe that the fate of the galaxy comes down to some completely unexplained starchild asking Shepard what his favorite color is? That the army we built was all for nothing? That the squad whose loyalty we fought so hard for was all for nothing? That in the end, none of it mattered at all?
It's a poetic notion, but this isn't the place for poetry. It's one thing to rattle prose nihilistic over the course of a movie or ballad, where the audience is a passive observer, learning a lesson from the suffering and futility of a character, but that's not what Mass Effect is. Mass Effect has always been about making the player the true hero. If you really want us to all feel like we spent the past five years dumping time, energy, and emotional investment into this game just to tell us that nothing really matters, you have signed your own death certificate. Nobody pays hundreds of dollars and hours to be reminded how bleak, empty, and depressing the world can be, to be told that nothing we do matters, to be told that all of our greatest accomplishments, all of our faith, all of our work, all of our unity is for nothing.
No. It simply cannot be this bleak. I refuse to believe Bioware is really doing this. The ending of ME1 was perfect. We saw the struggle, we saw the cost, but we knew that we had worked hard, worked together, and won. The ending of ME2 was perfect. We saw the struggle, we saw the cost, but we knew that we had worked hard, worked together, and won.
Taken at face value, the end of ME3 throws every single thing we've done in the past five years into the wind, and makes the player watch from a distance as the entire galaxy is thrown into a technological dark age and a stellar extinction. Why would we care about a universe that no longer exists? We should we invest any more time or money into a world that will never be what we came to know and love?
Even if the ending is retconned, it doesn't make things better. Just knowing that the starchild was our real foe the entire time is so utterly mindless, contrived, and irrelevant to what we experienced in ME1 and ME2 that it cannot be forgiven. If that really is the truth, then Mass Effect simply isn't what we thought it was. And frankly, if this is what Mass Effect was supposed to be all along, I want no part of it. It's a useless, trite, overplayed cliche, so far beneath the praise I once gave this franchise that it hurts to think about.
No. There is no way to save this franchise without giving us the only explanation that makes sense. You know what it is. It was the plan all along. Too much evidence to not be true. Too many people reaching the same conclusions independently.
The indoctrination theory doesn't just save this franchise: it elevates it to one of the most powerful and compelling storytelling experiences I've ever had in my life. The fact that you managed to do more than indoctrinate Shepard - you managed to indoctrinate the players themselves - is astonishing. If that really was the end game, here, then you have won my gaming soul. But if that's true, then I'm still waiting for the rest of this story, the final chapter of Shepard's heroic journey. I paid to finish the fight, and if the indoctrination theory is true, it's not over yet.
And if it's not, then I just don't even care. I have been betrayed, and it's time for me to let go of the denial, the anger, the bargaining, and start working through the depression and emptiness until I can just move on. You can't keep teasing us like this. This must have seemed like a great plan at the time, but it has cost too much. These people believed in you. I believed in you.
Just make it right.